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Sagar v. Sagar

Appeals Court of Massachusetts
781 N.E.2d 54 (2003)


Facts

Sejal Sagar and Mahendra Sagar entered into an arranged marriage in India after a brief acquaintance. They moved to the United States and had a daughter in 1998. Six months after her birth, the couple separated. Mr. Sagar was very controlling and had physically and mentally abused Mrs. Sagar. The divorce court awarded the Sagars joint legal custody of their daughter, whom the couple agreed to raise in accordance with their Hindu religion. A disagreement arose over whether the daughter should undergo a ritual known as Chudakarana. The ritual required shaving the girl’s head, applying a mark to it, and bestowing blessings. It was to be done before her third birthday but could be delayed if the father atoned. Mr. Sagar desired that the daughter undergo the ritual, which was intended to promote good health. Mrs. Sagar did not want the ritual performed. She questioned its necessity as neither she nor other family members had participated in it. She also questioned her husband’s sincerity given that he never asked before their marriage whether she had undergone the ritual. Mr. Sagar argued before the trial court that his right to demand that the ceremony be performed was protected by his constitutional right to free exercise of religion. The trial court ordered that the parents’ decision regarding the Chudakarana be delayed until the child was old enough to decide for herself. The court also appeared to find that the father’s right to free exercise was not implicated in the matter because his insistence on the Chudakarana was based on his desire for control rather than a sincerely held belief. An appeal was taken.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Grasso, J.)

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